A pastor and a girls high school basketball coach were among 79 men arrested in a weeklong human trafficking sting in Florida, authorities said.
“Operation Takedown” began on March 30 and concluded on April 9, ahead of WrestleMania 37 in Tampa.
Undercover detectives posed as children in chat rooms, near hotels, and walked the streets as prostitutes, Sheriff Chad Chronister said Thursday at a news conference.
Among those arrested was Earnest Benjamin, a 39-year-old pastor at Breath of Life Worship Church. Benjamin allegedly offered to pay an undercover detective $25 for oral sex. He made the deal while his two young children were in the car with him and said he’d be back after he dropped them off at daycare.
Land O’ Lakes High School assistant girls basketball coach Christopher Ray was also arrested after answering an ad on an escort site. Ray was suspended from his job following his arrest.
“Both of these men, trusted and revered members of our community, were arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution,” Chronister said.
Registered sex offender Rusty Harden of Tampa was arrested on multiple felony charges after he sent explicit messages and photos to an undercover detective he believed was a 14-year-old girl. Harden, 41, went on foot to meet the “teenager” only to be greeted by detectives, authorities say.
Jason Brooks, 44, of Tampa, and Jamel Muldrew, 32, of Houston, were also arrested on human trafficking charges.
Brooks was taken in after he responded to a decoy prostitution ad. He believed he was going to pay for sex with a 17-year-old girl, authorities said. Muldrew had been transporting a 17-year-old victim for the sole purpose of commercial sexual acts. On top of one count of human trafficking, Muldrew faces charges of transporting for prostitution and deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution.
Thursday’s announcement comes two months after authorities arrested 75 people during a similar operation on the week of the Super Bowl. The ages of people charged in that case were as young as 19 and as old as 73.
Author : Barnini Chakraborty
Source : Washington Examiner : Pastor and girls basketball coach among 75 arrested in sex trafficking sting ahead of WrestleMania